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Black family reports hate crimes in Yorba Linda

A couple, both law enforcement officers, and their children move to Corona after repeated incidents of vandalism and harassment.

November 21, 2012|By Nicole Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times

The last straw for the African American police officer living in an upscale Orange County community was the acid pellets someone shot into his garage in October, the corrosive capsules damaging his car.

It had been an ugly, racially tinged pattern since the Inglewood police officer, his wife — a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy — and their two children had moved into the Yorba Linda neighborhood in 2011.

Rocks were thrown through their windows, car tires were slashed, and racial taunts were shouted by passing motorists. One day, their 6-year-old son came home from school asking why his classmates said they couldn't play with him because he was black.

Fed up, the family fled the city a few weeks ago and moved out of the county to Corona, said the father, who asked that his name not be used out of fear for his safety. His wife reported the incidents to the Orange County Human Relations Commission, which tracks hate crimes in county.

In response, the commission said it intends to share the story with local politicians and conduct so-called listening sessions to gauge the experience of African Americans in Orange County.

"It just illustrates that even amid our really wonderful community, life is different for some people," said Rusty Kennedy, the executive director of the commission.

Though African Americans account for a small fraction of the county's population — no more than 2% — they are the most frequently targeted group for hate crimes, Kennedy said.

In Yorba Linda, a city of 65,000, African Americans make up a scant 1% of the population, according to census statistics. The city's mayor, Mark Schwing, did not return a request for comment. Neither did the city's Police Department.

The Rev. Mark Whitlock, a pastor at Christ Our Redeemer A.M.E. Church in Irvine, one of the county's largest black churches, said that congregants frequently share personal challenges related to living in a region where they are such a minority.

"It is unfortunate that we lost a wonderful family in Yorba Linda," he said. "Whatever took place, it was just a few fools, a few people who were misguided."

The commission wrote to the family — addressed in the letter simply as "Former Yorba Linda Family" — to denounce the hostility and ugliness they had faced.

"As much as some are tired of hearing about discrimination and bigotry and would like to declare this a post-racial society, our commission find that the facts don't support that conclusion," wrote Carol Turpen, the chair of the commission.

She ended the letter with a pledge: "We are committed to wipe out hate within the O.C."

The organization also said it would use the family's story to educate the community that "we are not comfortable" with what happened.

"The story is there, there are still people who are facing this," Kennedy said. "They are facing it, sometimes, quietly and alone."

The father said that at first, he was excited to be in Yorba Linda — the birthplace of former President Richard Nixon — and said it felt far safer than the Bellflower neighborhood where the family had previously lived.

But that sense of safety evaporated when the rocks were tossed, the car tires were slashed, and the acid pellets fired into the garage. After the family talked about the incident, the college-age son said that when he rode his bike to his job at a nearby Home Depot, he was taunted with racial epithets by passing motorists and told to go back home.

"We wanted people to know that it's not peachy keen in Yorba Linda when it comes to racism," the father said.

nicole.santacruz@latimes.com

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